The Good Wife Works – Heroes and heroines in Black History Month


Elizabeth Ellis Square

“Things that no one knows, things that leave no trace, do not exist.” (Italo Svevo, Zeno’s Conscience)


Rosa Parks is a household name for her defiance of Jim Crow laws in the South. She died at age 92, 50 years after the event — when she was 42 years old — that made history.

Claudette Colvin was 15 years old (born 09/05/39) in Birmingham when her civil rights event occurred on March 2, 1955. Other women — Geneva, Viola, Katie, Edwina Epsie and Mary — between 1946 and 1955 similarly stood up to Jim Crow laws in the South along with Parks andColvin, but attorney E.I. Nixon said, “I need someone I can win with.” That was Parks.

“That we matter and that what we are doing matters can be erased easily — by depression or fear or anxiety,” Elizabeth Kastor wrote (Int’l Herald Tribune, 1997). Colvin was dating a married man and at age 16 became pregnant. Colvin knew Rosa Parks. “Rosa was hard to get to know, but her mom was just the opposite — warm, talkative and funny.” (Source: Phillip Hoose, Colvin’s biographer)

In his autobiography, Walter White, former secretary of the NAACP, said, “The determination of the anti-Negro element in the South [was] to keep its power no matter what the Constitution or the remainder of the country said.” Claudette Colvin told her classmates, “I won’t straighten my hair until they straighten out this mess.”

“The power of the media is profound. It sets agendas, interprets meaning, and confers status,”  Alice Tait and Todd Burroughs wrote in “Mixed Signals: Race & the Media,” (Race & Resistance, Herb Boyd, ed.) In 1975, Frank Sicora, a Birmingham newspaper reporter, “remembered there had been someone before Rosa Parks.” (Source: Phillip Hoose, Colvin’s biographer) “The white press,” E. Franklin Frazier wrote, “pays little attention to [Blacks’] everyday existence.”

“’The reason why colored Americans are compelled to live in ghettos, where they are helpless against high rents and miserable housing, is the segregation to which race prejudice compels them,” Pearl Buck wrote in the New York Times, 11/15/41.

“Race prejudice compels colored people to take what work they can get because there are so many jobs Negroes cannot get. Race prejudice makes and keeps Negroes’ wages low because some labor unions will not admit colored labor on the same basis as white labor. Race prejudice and race prejudice alone is the root of the plight of people in greater and lesser Harlems all over the country.” (Quoted by Alberta Hunter’s biographer)

“The whites and their hatreds are the problem and not us,” bell hooks, wrote in Bone Black.

Question: What’s the largest organ of our body? Answer: skin. In John Cleese’ book The Face, the melanin in dark skin came with the first traces of mankind discovered in Africa; fair skin evolved later when man migrated to a colder climate with less sunshine. Melanin affords protection from the sun.

“Race” is no longer a valid scientific measurement of humans; neither are indignities, humiliation and abuse based on skin color. Caste, one-upmanship, and pecking orders still exist as a universal proclivity to classify and/or judge. Our human condition, Doris Lessing wrote in Under My Skin, “is to be trapped by circumstance,” i.e., Princess Diana’s sons were born to a noble family.

Regarding heroes, “…one young dude looked at this mural [of Martin Luther King] and said, ‘He can’t do nothing for me. He ain’t on a dollar bill.’” (Source: Hubert Canfield, Milwaukee Black communist activist quoted by J. M. Hagedorn in People and Folks)

Gloria Richardson of Cambridge, MD was a hero who stood up to racism. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (b. 1939) is a hero who stood up to male politicians for taking the liberty of “using her first name without her permission.”

Former Secretary of State Dean Rusk is a hero “even while an Army captain in World War II, when he broke the color line at an officers’ mess by bringing an OSS officer named Ralph Bunche to dine with him.” (Source: Time Magazine) The State Department library is named for Ralph J. Bunche. Rusk’s daughter married a Black man.

Heroes? “Actually there are about a million black leaders,” Ralph Wiley wrote. “You just can’t find them in the Yellow Pages under B or L.”


Elizabeth Ellis is the mother of three grown children, a college graduate, a 10-year veteran of the Foreign Service and a native of the Twin Cities. She welcomes reader responses to ellisea51@hot